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Tacoma mayor says officer involved in Manuel Ellis' death "should be fired and prosecuted"

Black man dies in Tacoma police custody
Black man dies in Tacoma police custody 02:29

The Mayor of Tacoma, Washington, Victoria Woodards, has called for the firing of police officers involved in the death of Manuel Ellis. Ellis, a 33-year-old black man, died March 3 in handcuffs while being restrained on the ground by police. His death has been ruled a homicide.

"I am demanding tonight that the Pierce County Sheriff review and confirm every action taken by each officer. I demand that the sheriff provide details of the actions of each officer on the scene and I am directing the city manager to fire each officer involved," Woodards said at a news conference late Thursday night, adding: "The officer who committed this crime should be fired and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

The Pierce County Medical Examiner's Office determined that Ellis died of respiratory arrest due to hypoxia due to physical restraint, The News Tribune reported. Contributing factors included methamphetamine intoxication and dilated cardiomyopathy, commonly known as an enlarged heart. The Medical Examiner ruled Ellis' death a homicide.

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An undated photo of Manuel Ellis, who died in Tacoma police custody on March 3, 2020. CBS affiliate KIRO-TV

CBS affiliate KIRO-TV reported that in a 12-minute police radio recording taken the night of Ellis' death, officers can be heard calling for an ambulance and telling dispatchers Ellis will need to be strapped down. At one point, Ellis can be heard saying, "I can't breathe."

Woodards stressed the importance of the video of the incident and called for the city manager "to move forward for allocating funding for body cams immediately."

"We have waited way too long," she said.

Police Chief Don Ramsdell issued a statement Thursday expressing his "sincere condolences" to Ellis' friends and family.

"I would also like to recognize the compassion and empathy our community has shown during this difficult time. We hear your anger, frustrations and hopes. I want you to know we continue to be committed to engaging with you on topics of safety, community policing and race, so that all people feel safe in Tacoma," Ramsdell said.

"The harshest of realities is George Floyd is right here in Tacoma, and his name is Manny," attorney James Bible, who is representing Ellis' family, told the News Tribune.

KIRO-TV reported that at the time of his death, officials said Ellis appeared to be suffering from excited delirium, which often includes attempts at violence, unexpected strength and very high body temperature. They said that might have explained why Ellis allegedly banged on a patrol car and attacked two officers trying to calm him down.

Protesters in Tacoma have marched for several days against police brutality and racial inequality, demanding justice for Floyd, Ellis and others who have died at the hands of police.

There are similarities in the deaths of Ellis and Floyd, who died in Minneapolis last week after a white police officer pressed his knee into Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes.

On the night Ellis died, police encountered him at 11:22 p.m. as he was walking home, harassing a woman at an intersection, police said. When two officers in the area asked what he was doing, police say Ellis said he had warrants and wanted to talk to them, police said.

Then he repeatedly struck their patrol car, police said. The two officers inside called for backup then got out of the car.

"He picked up the officer by his vest and slam-dunked him on the ground," said Ed Troyer, spokesman of the Pierce County Sheriff's Department, which is investigating the incident.

There was a struggle before police got Ellis handcuffed on the ground and officers called for paramedics at 11:25 p.m.

Within a minute of firefighters arriving, Ellis stopped breathing and lost consciousness. He was pronounced dead at the scene. His cause of death was initially listed as pending while medical examiners ran toxicology tests.

This week, Tacoma police identified the four officers involved in restraining Ellis as Christopher Burbank, Matthew Collins, Masyih Ford and Timothy Rankine.

Burbank and Collins are white while Ford is black and Rankine is Asian. All four were placed on paid administrative leave after the incident. They were placed on leave a second time after returning for duty, according to Ramsdell.

KIRO-TV reported that hundreds gathered at a vigil for Ellis late Wednesday.

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